With 4G connections now well established throughout much of the world, international telecoms players are now working towards the launch of 5G, the next generation of mobile data networks. Notable progress towards this was made in March 2017, when the Third Generation Partnership Project – a group of seven telecoms development organisations that sets standards for mobile telecommunications technologies – announced it would release finalised 5G guidelines by year’s end. The move will allow makers of telecoms equipment to start work on standardised 5G instruments earlier than previously planned.
The main advantage of the new network will be significantly faster connection speeds, measured in Gbps, compared to hundreds of Mbps for 4G networks. The technology will also reduce latency times – the amount of time between the dispatch and receipt of data. 4G latency times average 25 milliseconds, while 5G is expected to bring latency times down to around one millisecond. The technology should also improve mobile phone battery life, as it will be able to pick up lower-powered radio signals.
US operators will likely be the first to roll out the technology, with some having launched pre-commercial services by the end of 2017. South Korean operators are hoping to have a 5G network in place in time for the 2018 Winter Olympics, taking place in Pyeongchang. European operators are also making progress towards an eventual launch; in early September 2017 Germany’s Deutsche Telekom said it had activated the first 5G connection on a European commercial network, achieving speeds in excess of 2 Gbps and latency of as low as around three milliseconds.
The country’s two mobile operators, the Emirates Telecommunications Corporation (Etisalat) and the Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (du), have already begun preparing to launch 5G services, and industry players predict the UAE could become the first country in the MENA region to do so. After reported discussions with industry regulators and device manufacturers in March 2017, Etisalat announced its intention to launch a commercial 5G network in 2019, with mass uptake to begin the following year. In February the firm signed an agreement with Qualcomm, a mobile chipset manufacturer, to accelerate this development. Etisalat and its technology partner, Ericsson, announced they had completed a 5G trial in May 2017, achieving throughput speeds of more than 24 Gbps. The company intends to launch a pilot 5G network in the near future. Du is also taking steps to develop 5G services. In June 2017 the firm conducted a trial of multiple input, multiple output 5G technology, and in early August it also announced plans to commercially launch a 5G network in the second half of 2019. The firm said these services would be extended in phases and would fully roll out within four years of its initial release.
Global plans to use 5G’s faster speeds to support technologies, such as the internet of things, machine-to-machine communication and fleet management, have special relevance to the emirate, given the Smart Dubai initiatives and the Dubai Plan 2021 (see overview). This has particularly important applications in the transport sector, including in areas such as traffic management. For example, lower latency times will cause connected and self-driving cars to have faster reaction times: they will travel significantly shorter distances in the time between when a stop order is centrally issued and when the car receives it. Local firms are already working to develop solutions that will facilitate the use of 5G for such purposes. In June 2017 Thuraya, a Dubai-headquartered communications firm, launched an internet protocol machine-to-machine service, designed to facilitate efficient communication between devices without human intervention.
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